Sunday, February 5, 2012
Rapid Reaction: Northwestern 74, Illinois 70
By Scott Powers
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Here’s a quick look at Northwestern's 74-70 win over Illinois on Sunday at Assembly Hall.
How it happened: Much like the teams’ first meeting (a 57-56 Illini win), this one came down to the final minutes. With the game tied at 56-56 with 5:04 left, Northwestern went on a 10-5 run, which included six points by John Shurna, to give itself some breathing room. Former walk-on Reggie Hearn was the story early in the game. Coming in averaging 6.1 points, Hearn went off for 16 points, including four 3-pointers, in the first half. He finished with a career-high 20 points.
What it means: Both teams needed Sunday’s game, but Northwestern probably required it more. The Wildcats went 3-6 in the opening half of the Big Ten season and that included two home losses. They knew they needed to steal a few road wins down the stretch, and they got their first one on Sunday. They’re now 2-0 in February. Illinois dropped back to .500 in the conference and now embarks on a tough stretch with road games at Indiana and Michigan.
Player of the game: Shurna had been bottled up by Illinois’ Brandon Paul in the second half of the teams’ previous game and for much of the first half on Sunday. In the second half, Shurna finally broke out. He scored 17 of his game-high 24 points and shot 8 of 9 from the field in the second half.
Illinois player of the game: With Northwestern playing in a 1-3-1 and without a true center most of the game, Illinois took advantage of sophomore center Meyers Leonard as much as possible. He made his first eight shots and was 10 of 12 from the field. He had 21 points and nine rebounds.
What’s next: Illinois goes on the road at Indiana on Thursday and at Michigan on Feb. 12. Northwestern returns home to host Iowa on Thursday.